Tag Archives: 1998

Song Analysis #27: Semisonic – Closing Time

Update 18/01/15: this past weekend, this post was inexplicably barraged by comments, which I thought was a bit strange, given that I posted it on Music in Notes a year ago. A woman with a science background (doubly weird, considering my main vocation) wrote a post a couple days ago, reminiscing about the birth of one of her children, tying this event in with Dan Wilson explaining in 2008 what the song is about. (Google it, and you’ll find said video.)

Personally, I think it’s strange anyone would use anything related to a bar and drinking as a metaphor for the birth of a baby, but that’s artistic license. Also, seeing that the writer has already explained the meaning of his song, this post is now closed to comments.

Title: ‘Closing Time’
Where to find it: ‘Feeling Strangely Fine’ (1998, MCA)
Performed by: Semisonic
Words by: Dan Wilson

There is a small group of songs, definitely numbering less than 10, that I would say I recall sitting in the back of one of our friends’ cars, with the radio turned way up, and everyone knew all the words too. And knew when to break out the air guitar during the solo. To say that ‘Closing Time’ by Semisonic was a song that defined my and my friends’ lives in school would be an understatement. The song spoke to me instrumentally first, with the lyrics feeling right for the music, but its meaning didn’t really come to me until I started thinking about what songs I might want to analyse on Music in Notes in 2014.

I pick up song lyrics quickly, and in a world where we generally only listened to regular radio on boomboxes and the internet had barely become a thing, ‘Semisonic’ quickly became one of those tunes that I had on repeat not only on my pathetic sound system at school, but also in my head. It became so large in my ‘mythology’ (I’m being sarcastic; that’s why mythology has single quotes around it) that my girlfriends all knew how much I loved that song. So much that one of them tried to set me up with a guy they knew who boasted he could play the song on guitar and he knew all the words too. (See? Even back then I was hopelessly drawn to musician types.) I turned up for a friend’s birthday party where I was supposed to meet this guy, but he only had eyes for another one of our friends. At the time, I was a little mad. We had the music thing in common, surely he’d be interested in me. What the heck happened?

Turned out he was better suited for our friend anyway, and they ended up getting married, which I am so thankful for because they are one of the few couples I know who support each other through everything. Even when 2 years ago, when they had to say their final goodbyes to their young daughter who had been born with a birth defect, they were each other’s rock as I sat there at the funeral, feeling dumbstruck by grief, wondering how they would continue. And yet they have, because their marriage is one built with so much strength.

Like many of the song analyses I’ve done for this site, I don’t think ‘Closing Time’ is as simple as most people think. Yes, it means ‘time for last orders’, but closing time can also indicate closing of a chapter in your life, and while the two words taken by themselves are ambiguous whether or not that closing is positive or negative, I think without a doubt in Dan Wilson’s world, it’s overwhelming positive.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Closing time
Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Closing time
Turn all of the lights on over every boy and every girl
Closing time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer
Closing time
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here

Chorus
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
Take me home

Verse 2
Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from
Closing time
This room won’t be open ’til your brothers or your sisters come
So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend
Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Chorus
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
Take me home

Bridge
Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from

Chorus / Outro
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home*
I know who I want to take me home
Take me home

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Now, the analysis:

If you look straight at the words without thinking about what they mean, ‘Closing Time’ is a pretty repetitive and simple song, isn’t it? I mean, look. “Closing time” gets sung. A lot. Again and again. Even the bridge is stolen from the second verse. It’s important to note that there’s no pretentiousness whatsoever in word choice here, which suits the theory that it’s really a song about a bartender saying “last call!” and taking the last alcohol orders before the lights get turned on and everyone gets kicked out of the joint. But…let’s look for a bit more meaning, shall we?

When a bar closes, people stop drinking because they can’t buy any more booze, and the lights go on. I am more familiar with this concept in the gig setting, where the lights go on after the headline band has left the stage for good. Dan Wilson sings in verse 1, “open all the doors and let you out into the world”. I think this is an amazing setup for something that transcends the end of the night at your local watering hole. Open, close. Open, close. Open, close. (That just made me think of my dentist.) Okay, so the bar closes, which forces everyone in that bar out on the street, “to be let out into the world”. There is something very freeing about that line, which might strike you as odd and contradictory, seeing that “closing time” sounds very final, a conclusion.

“Turn all of the lights on over every boy and every girl”: the lights have turned on, and now everyone can see each other for what they are, warts and all. “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here”: if you take this literally, it could mean you have the option to go home with someone else, which is what often happens at bars at the conclusion of the night anyway, right? But I’m thinking “home” in this instance was the life you had before you entered this place: not literally the bar, but that moment in time where you found yourself, examining what you were doing with your life. There’s a moment on the Beatles Anthology where Paul McCartney admits that the thought of taking drugs scared him because it would affect his mind and how “you could never go home…again”. When you come to a turning point in your life, often you can’t go back. Choices have been made, and you have no choice but to keep moving, and to keep moving forward.

The choruses are the repeated lines, “I know who I want to take me home”. When I was younger, I remember thinking this was the oddest words to string together for a chorus. But if you think about the line in isolation, without the song, what Wilson is saying is there is a person for everyone. I think I can safely say that we all have (or had) ideas of what our perfect match would look like, what colour his/her hair and eyes would be, and what kind of person he/she would be. Whether or not in this song this person exists in the protagonist’s life already is irrelevant: this image of perfection lives on his mind and his heart. The repetition serves to drive home this point, that he’s adamant it’s this one person. In the outro version of the chorus, I have put an asterisk where Wilson takes the liberty of adding a bit of flair by changing the notes up a bit.

Verse 2 is more confusing. “Time for you to go out to the places you will be from”: is he talking about past and future lives? “This room won’t be open ’til your brothers or your sisters come”: I honestly don’t know what this means. What room? Whose brothers and sisters? I doubt he means literally someone’s siblings, so I’m guessing he’s referring to the brotherhood (sisterhood?) of man. Maybe these are the ghosts of his loved ones, maybe that’s why he specifies “brothers or sisters”? Now I’m starting to think this verse might be about death. If yes, “So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits / I hope you have found a friend” makes more sense. It is time to go, so take all of your worldly possessions, because you need to leave this astral plane.

And then we come to the most important line of ‘Closing Time’, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Kind of self-explanatory, but it’s useful to tie back into the theme of death, with a subsequent rebirth. But I also really like this line, especially how Wilson sings it so emphatically. It’s not sung sadly or angrily. It isn’t melancholic or regretful, even at the end of the song. It just is. And I like that a lot. We’re not twanging any heartstrings in this song. No-one is hunched over with bloodshot eyes because they’re at their wit’s end and can cry no more. No, this is a song about accepting what has happened and having the strength to move on. And here’s another nice ‘coincidence’. Look at the title of the album where it came from: ‘Feeling Strangely Fine’. Nice one, boys from Minneapolis.

For me, the ending of 2013 was tumultuous, yet oddly cathartic and freeing. Clear as day, like someone had someone taken off my rose-coloured glasses, I saw who really cared about me and who didn’t. In a span of 24 hours, I went from being the unhappiest woman in town to one feeling gratitude for friends who might live far away but have hearts of gold. Now I can go forward into this new year embracing the friends who matter and forgetting the ones who don’t.

Lastly, the song, in its stirring promo form that had my eyes glued to the tv screen. This was before YouTube, you know! There is also a payphone in this video because yes kids, there was a time when we didn’t have mobile phones. Imagine that.

Song Analysis #15: Smashing Pumpkins – Perfect

Title: ‘Perfect’
Where to find it: ‘Adore’ (1998, Virgin Records)
Performed by: Smashing Pumpkins
Words by: Billy Corgan

Yes, I know. It’s Thursday. Not Tuesday. But things have been weighing heavily on my mind, we just had Labor Day weekend here, which messed up my usual schedule and yeah…you’re getting a song interpretation today πŸ™‚

Before he went bald and turned into a menacing Uncle Fester and well before he dated Jessica Simpson and tried to turn her into a goth, it’s easy to forget that the same man Billy Corgan wrote some of the best teen angsty songs of the ’90s. Some of them were hard: ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’, ‘Today’. Some of them were majestic: ‘1979’, ‘Tonight, Tonight’. Some of them were painfully beautiful: ‘Disarm’. And this one, ‘Perfect’, probably my favourite Smashing Pumpkins song. The album from whence it came, ‘Adore’, showed a shift in Corgan’s songwriting, which was evidenced by the overall less abrasive, quieter quality of the release.

First, the words:

Verse 1
I know
We’re just like old friends
We just can’t pretend
That lovers make amends
We are reasons so unreal
We can’t help but feel
That something has been lost

Chorus
But please
You know you’re just like me
Next time I promise we’ll be perfect
Perfect
Perfect

Bridge 1
Strangers down the line
Lovers out of time
Memories unwind
So far, I still know who you are
But now I wonder who I was

Verse 2 (truncated)
Angel, you know it’s not the end
We’ll always be good friends
The letters have been sent on

Chorus
So please
You always were so free
You’ll see, I promise we’ll be perfect
Perfect

Bridge 2
Strangers when we meet
Strangers on the street
Lovers while we sleep

Modified chorus / outro
Perfect
You know this has to be
We always were so free
We promised that we’d be
Perfect
Perfect

Now, the analysis:

This song plays with themes of time, lifetimes, and love and death. Pretty standard pop/rock fodder there. However, I’m detecting an underlying theme of reincarnation as well. I can tell you from first hand knowledge that this is probably about the worst song – besides ‘The End of the World’ – that you can listen to when you’ve realised the relationship you’re in is breaking down and you can’t cope.

The lovers of this song are obviously in tune with each other: “I know / We’re just like old friends”; “You know you’re just like me”. But the voice of the song is trying to tell his lover that this time around, it’s not working out. But what will happen between them on a different plane, in another life? “Next time I promise we’ll be perfect”, they will. He seems so sure of this. The way Corgan slowly sings, “perfect…perfect…”, it’s done in such a whispering, angelic way, I can’t get over it. This is the same man spitting vitriol at us in ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’, insisting “the world is a vampire”? Meanwhile, the song itself is driving on with its guitars and drums, rounding out the sound and not letting the mood of the lyrics slow down the song one bit.

I find the bridges very beguiling. In the first one, “Strangers down the line / Lovers out of time / Memories unwind”: after you’ve broken up with someone, you start to feel like they’re strangers because they’ve been unceremoniously cut out of your life. You start to think of them as a lover that was in your life at the wrong time and place, even if the memories can still be fresh in your mind. And quite literally, these lovers in the song are out of time: the relationship is over. “Strangers when we meet / Strangers on the street” has the same kind of sentiment. But “Lovers while we sleep” works very well to me here because when we sleep, our subconscious is alive and remembers those who we loved and those who hurt us. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to think that while we dream, even if we’ve broken up with someone, that person will still appear as a lover in our dreams.

But the kicker of the song for me are these lines that close the first bridge: “So far, I still know who you are / But now I wonder who I was.” When you’re deep into a relationship, or even just a mild infatuation, you yourself make changes to the way you think, the way you act, the way you react in response to being around this person you love. The problem for most of us is that we bend over backwards to change ourselves so that we can be that perfect person we envision for the one we love, while at the same time putting that person on a pedestal and thinking he/she is perfect and he/she doesn’t have any faults or doesn’t need to change. This is extremely dangerous. No-one’s perfect and if and when that relationship falls apart and you can step back from the wreckage, you will begin to see how messed you really were, changing yourself to be the kind of person you thought the other person wanted. In short, love when it’s not real is destructive. Billy Corgan’s voice comes to accept this.

The last bit, which is a modification of the earlier choruses going into an outro, is pretty harrowing too. “You know this has to be / We always were so free”: our destiny is that we won’t have a happy ending. We weren’t and aren’t meant to be together, at least in this life. I find this is echoed in the chorus of the Crookes‘ ‘Chorus of Fools’: “you and me were fated to be so damn blue”.

What I find extremely emotional is Corgan’s parting blow and how he manages it: “We promised that we’d be / Perfect…” Did you notice what he did there with just a single word change? In the previous iteration of the chorus, he said “*you* always were so free”, not *we*. In the course of the song, he’s gone from thinking that this person he was with was “perfect” and that it was she who was meant to be free of the relationship and free from him. But by the time we reach the end, he has removed himself from this thinking that he was the problem and has come to the conclusion that it’s best that both of them are set free from the ties that bind. And that’s ultimately where you want to end up when a relationship has ended: the true transformation in you is when you realise that something amazing happened to you when you were with that person in love, and while it’s over, you just might see that person again in another life and maybe then you have another chance of giving it a real shot. In that respect, the song comes out not sad, but optimistic.

No pun intended, this song is just about perfect.

Lastly, the song, the song’s promo video, which incidentally was purposely made to connect to the video for ‘1979’, utilising the same directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and four out of five of the actors from the earlier video. I don’t think the video does much for the song at all and kind of marginalises its value.